by Tim Korso Harris and the US administration has faced harsh criticism over her Asian tour, organised amid the problem-stricken withdrawal from Afghanistan and chaos at the Kabul Airport, as well as the failure to evacuate all of the Afghans who helped NATO forces. Vice President Kamala Harris has stressed that the US will continue to strive to keep the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” during a visit to Singapore, adding, however, that Washington is currently preoccupied with issues in Afghanistan, which she called a “higher priority”. “Right now we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who have worked with us, and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children and that is our singular focus at this time”, she said. When the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan finally ends, America will be shifting its gaze to the Indo-Pacific region, according to Harris’ statements amid her visit to Singapore and meeting with the country’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Halimah Yacob. The US vice president promised that Washington will work closely with its local allies and partners in order to “uphold the rules based international order, and freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea”. Harris went on to urge people not to draw parallels between America’s commitments to its Indo-Pacific partners and Afghanistan, where, according to many, the US failed to live up to its promises. President Joe Biden previously claimed that Washington had never pledged or planned to engage in nation-building in Afghanistan, saying it only invaded the nation to eradicate al-Qaeda*. US Military Presence in the South China Sea The VP’s pledge of American assistance came as Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the perception of Washington’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region will be determined by “what the US does going forward, how it repositions itself in the region, how it engages its broad range of friends and partners and allies”. While Singapore does not have any claims to the disputed South China Sea, other regional powers working with the US, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Philippines, do have such territorial claims. Harris is scheduled to travel to Vietnam in the near future with the same mission of reaffirming US commitments to the region under the motto “America is back”. The US routinely sends its warships to the South China Sea, which is predominantly controlled by the Chinese Navy. China has condemned these sorties carried out under the guise of “freedom of navigation” missions, calling them dangerous provocations. Beijing warned that one day these missions might result in an accident and an armed confrontation, suggesting that neither country wants such an outcome.